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Taking our national parks to the White House and the people

TAKING-OUT-NATIONAL-PARKSTaking our national parks to the White House and the people

The Centennial Initiative Coalition met with the Manager of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, Christy Goldfuss (c) to convey our vision for the next 100 years of national parks.

By Audrey Peterman

Approaching the 100 Anniversary of the National Park Service, (the agency Congress created in 1916 to manage our National Park System,) a coalition of Americans of African, Asian, Hispanic and Native descent have come together to ask President Obama to issue a Presidential Proclamation calling for the parks to reflect our increasingly diverse country. When the Centennial is celebrated August 25, we ask the President to put forth a vision for the next 100 years in which visitors and workers in the parks look more like today’s America than that of 1916. We are also asking for more historical sites to be included in the parks system that represent the contributions of non-white Americans.

President Obama has been out front on this issue, adding units such as the Harriet Tubman Birthplace/Underground Railroad National Monument in Maryland;  the Charles Young/Buffalo Soldiers National Monument in Ohio and the Cesar Chavez National Monument in California. Still, we are asking for more, including Freedom Riders National Historical Park in Alabama.

May 16 the Coalition met at the White House Eisenhower Building with the President’s chief environmental advisor Christy Goldfuss and her team, who expressed delight with our focus and the breadth of our vision.

Riding a wave of elation, I was hurled brutally onshore last week when I learned of a development that could cut the heart and soul out of the system we’re trying to protect: The National Park Service is proposing to let corporations have the right to put their names on some of the buildings and public spaces in our national parks. For 100 years there has been tacit and explicit agreement that our national parks should remain free from commercialism, as the places where we go to get away from the bombardment of commercials in our daily life.

But a new order from the director of the park service proposes to authorize “the temporary naming of rooms and interior spaces in NPS facilities…to recognize donations for the renovation of an existing facility or construction of a new facility.”

Taking our national parks to the White House and the people

The proposal also requires the civil servants who operate our parks to solicit monies to operate them, which is a big departure from the 100-year old expectation that Congress will allocate the funds from our tax dollars.

Since the GW Bush administration Congress has consistently failed to fund the parks adequately, leading to a backlog that requires about $11.5 billion to fix roads etc. Leaders in this Congress have made clear their desire to remove lands from the federal domain and return them to the states, particularly to exploit them for oil, gas and other resources.

Over the years responsible corporations and philanthropists have stepped into the breach to support our parks without insisting on their names being attached to them. But the new director’s order opens the door to a flood of commercialism, in direct opposition to what our national parks are about. The effort is so surreptitious that I didn’t even learn about it until days after the 45-day “public comment period” closed, leading me to ask how many other Americans do not know what we are on the verge of losing?

A petition being circulated by the SumofUs currently has more than 36,000 signatures, and I encourage every American who cares about the future of our country to sign a petition against commercialization of our national parks. In 2010 the Supreme Court authorized Citizens United to allow unbridled corporate influence in our elections, so our national parks are practically the last place where we have the right to say to corporate interests, “This far and no farther shall you go! We are a COUNTRY, not a corporation!”

We cannot give up the rights of our grand and great-grand-children and those who come after us because we were too (insert word) to care, and act.

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